Kickin’ the Bucket | My cat kicked the bucket

Kickin’ The Bucket is a bi-weekly blog about death, dead things and the people who work with them.

By Millicent Watt, Contributing Editor

I had my first close witness of death when I put my childhood cat down last month.

I adopted Farm Hester when I was in second grade — hence the name choice. She was my best friend growing up, and we were absolutely inseparable. She was incredibly grumpy and often growled when picked up or annoyed, but as she got older, she got nicer and developed sweet spots for my family members.

She often sat on my mother’s lap while doing work, slept with my sister when I was away at school and sat in front of the TV when my brother played Xbox. She had a nightly routine with my father, which he called “Daddy love time” — kind of creepy, I know — where she would wait outside the bathroom door for him to get out of the shower and love her.

Farm Hester developed an insatiable appetite while also rapidly losing weight, starting last year. After doing some tests and bloodwork, our vet said the results were inconclusive, but that she felt a mass in her stomach. She said we had two options — do more tests or make her comfortable until she passes.

With Farm Hester being 12, almost 13, we decided to opt for the latter. And we did just that for another year. We left wet cat food on the kitchen counter 24/7 for Farm Hester, and went through about two cans of cat food a day. Despite the changes in her weight, she was exactly the same.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I woke up on a Saturday morning to a call from my father, telling me he thought it was time. He said she hadn’t been eating or drinking for the past couple days and that she’s been hiding in the corner of my mother’s closet — a habit that many sick or dying cats tend to develop in their last days.

My sister and mother drove out to Pittsburgh to pick me up, and I went home to spend the weekend with Farm Hester.

We took naps together and I studied and attended meetings beside her on her last day. I spent a lot of time sitting and just petting her. At one point, she put her paw on my face. It was something she always did when we slept together at night — she always had to be touching me. I felt like she was — time to be cliché — saying goodbye to me and it was at that moment that I felt okay with letting her go.

We took her to be euthanized later that day. We were put in a “family visiting” room — a nice room with an examination table and a couch, specifically meant for euthanasias.

I felt bad for the vet techs when my father introduced me to them, saying, “This is my daughter, Millie, and this is her childhood cat, Farm Hester,” and all I could do was nod in response.

A vet tech took Farm Hester to intubate her and she came back with Farm Hester wrapped in a towel, growling. She looked pissed and the nurse joked that Farm Hester had been saying “a lot of not nice words” in the back and I had to laugh. It brought some comfort knowing that Farm Hester still had her attitude.

The vet came in, introduced herself and apologized for having to meet me under such unfortunate circumstances. My dad explained to her that he used to be a vet tech and witnessed many euthanasias, but that this was my first one and that Farm Hester had been my best friend for the past almost 13 years.

My dad confessed afterwards that putting animals down never got easier.

The vet explained how the euthanasia works — Farm Hester would feel no pain, how it was simply like an overdose of anasthesia.

I held Farm Hester’s body and my dad held her head. She seemed relaxed and was purring, and we told her that she was a good girl and that we loved her. Then she stumbled a bit, let out a gargled meow and then passed. The vet checked her pulse and said she was gone.

I asked for a few moments with Farm Hester to say my final goodbyes, with her head resting on my wrist. I didn’t realize how limp she was going to be. Petting felt normal enough but felt off without her subtle, involuntary reactions to my touch — no skin twitching, no ear movements or rising and falling of breath. Of course those things aren’t going to happen — she’s dead — but when you spend 13 years petting a living cat, it was odd to see such stillness.

My dad tried to close her eyes, the way they do it dramatically in movies.

“I’m trying to shut her eyes, but they won’t close,” he said, continuing to force her eyes shut, but they just popped back open. I then tried a few times and couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the image of my father and I trying to close my dead cat’s eyes.

He also noticed that she died with a blep, too. While I knew Farm Hester wouldn’t care — because she’s dead — I tried to poke her tongue back into her mouth to no avail. I tried to open her mouth a bit and wrestle her tongue back in, but realized it was weird messing with my dead cat this way.

I then said I was good to go. It was done — Farm Hester was in a better place, and I didn’t really want to stay in the euthanasia room any longer than necessary, with my dead cat on the table next to me.

Another vet tech came in to take Farm Hester’s body, asking what Farm Hester’s name was and her age. I told her I got her when I was in second grade. She said the hardest goodbyes are to the pets that grew up with us. I felt sorry for putting a damper on the vet and vet tech’s days, but it’s all part of the job.

Walking out of the building, I felt relieved. I no longer had to wait for the phone call of “when it was time.” We didn’t have to worry about her eating or drinking enough, where she was or how she felt. After slowly crawling to the finish line, we finally made it to the end of the race.

While it was painful witnessing her death, I felt that it was the right decision. Farm Hester had always been there for me growing up, and was my main source of comfort when feeling down. Whether I felt sad, was sick or recovering from surgery, she was there. She was always lurking around the corner in our house, watching over me. When I came home from elementary, middle, high school and college, she was always waiting by the back door to greet me. The least I could do was be with her in her last moments.

I came back to Pitt and joked about Farm Hester’s death. Of course I cried, but I laughed while retelling the stories about her growling at the vet tech or my father and me trying to close her eyes. When people asked me why I went home, I told them “my cat croaked,” and I complained about the price of urns in The Pitt News office.

Don’t get me wrong, the wound is still a bit raw for me and I did cry while writing this, but death is a natural thing that is bound to happen. When adopting a pet, you have to accept that you’ll probably outlive them, and that it is your responsibility to make their short life as enjoyable as possible.

Yes, I have to deal with the pain that comes with losing a pet and childhood best friend, but I’m comforted knowing that Farm Hester was well cared for and loved for the past 13 years.

My family is the sentimental type — my father carries around a tuft of fur from his soul dog in college, and my mother sleeps with the ashes from her soul dog under the bed. So, we decided to get Farm Hester privately cremated, and I have a spot for her on my shelf here at Pitt so I can finally show her the reason why I kept leaving for months on end.